Canal-Side Community Must Be Addressed: New Governor

Days after taking office as the new governor of Phnom Penh, Khuong Sreng visited Meanchey district’s canal-side community on Saturday to reinforce his commitment to renovating the defunct irrigation system and to passing out land titles for villagers.

According to a village representative, the measuring of plots of land for villagers is now set to begin on Tuesday.

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Khuong Sreng visits a canal marked for renovation in Meanchey district on Saturday, in a photo posted to City Hall’s Facebook page.

Mr. Sreng, the former deputy governor who took his new role on Wednesday, said on Sunday that he had yet to determine priority projects for his leadership, but that the canal is “the one location that has to be addressed,” citing a promise made by his predecessor in late May to do on-site renovations.

Stung Meanchey commune’s canal is lined by 423 families living on either side of it, according to housing rights groups.

“We need to arrange for the communities living on the canal to be given land titles—legal rights—making them feel confident in order to prevent them from worrying that their place will be evicted or removed,” Mr. Sreng said.

Former governor Pa Socheatvong—now an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen—promised in the days leading up to the June 4 commune elections that there would be “no evictions,” saying 5-by-8 meter plots would be carved from the site for villagers.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said at the time that running water, electricity and streetlights would be installed in addition to improving the drainage to prevent flooding. He warned, however, that this could not be guaranteed for every family’s property as neither detailed plans nor a budget for the project had been prepared at the time. He was unable to comment on Sunday.

Horn Sokhan, a committee member from one of the eight affected communities said they were informed during Mr. Sreng’s visit that officials would begin measuring the site on Tuesday.

Mr. Sreng’s immediate visit to the community “is a very, very good sign,” said Eang Vuthy, head of the housing and development NGO Equitable Cambodia, which has been working closely on the case.

“It’s very important that the new governor continues to uphold the promise of the previous governor…to build trust and confidence of the people,” he said.

“I think this would be a very good opportunity for the government and the people to work together, because we can see there’s a clear possibility for development to go ahead and people to still live there,” he added. “If the government has a willingness, as we say, then we believe that the project will move ahead.”

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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